Lucy Elizabeth's Flock
Old needlework has always fascinated me and when I had this opportunity to actually see a collection of antique samplers up close and in an old setting not in a museum, I didn't think twice about driving over 50 miles out of my way to visit the reknowned antique school girl needlework specialists Stephen and Carol Huber's needlework gallery during a trip to Boston in Aug -1996.
I had the thrill of going to the Antique Sampler Gallery (Sale) this morning in Old Saybrook, CT, shown by S&C Huber --- old schoolgirl needlework specialists.
The Gallery was located in an old house which had been built in two sections --- the oldest part dated from 1642 and the "newer" section was added in 1740. Originally the house was used as living quarters by soldiers who were attached to Fort Saybrook, and it's munitions storage. Later the house became a private home when the fort disbanded.
The antique needlework pictures were framed and displayed in the old house with really old antiques and reproduction furniture. Five fireplaces, the crooked, step up and down doorways to different rooms, built at different times, low beamed ceilings, old wooden plank floors, many original hand blown glass paned windows, etc., was a perfect setting for the old needlework. All modern day conveniences such as the bathroom were cleverly disguised. The bathroom door was set into the wall and looked "invisible".
Featured were samplers from different years, mourning pictures in various styles, large biblical embroideries in original, ornate, carved frames and other needlework items created in the 1700's to early 1800's.
There were old embroidered needlework pockets (purses) and various other items including watercolored minatures on ivory and other lockets.
One interesting piece was a mourning box --- the box panels were framed in velvet that had partially watercolored and stitched mourning pictures as well as hairwork samples set into the panels. The box was set on velvet covered bun feet. Paneled sides of the box without pictures contained old , silvered mirror glass. The box top came to a steeple point with a large velvet covered finial attached. This box was created in 1832 and currently valued at $3300. Very unusual memorial piece compared to the mourning pictures. Many of these embroideries contained messages that were quite touching to read.
The mourning and Biblical scenes embroideries often had professionally watercolored faces - the stitcher used silks to embroider in the rest of the picture.
There were several pieces of antique English needlework and samplers among the early American ones.
One very fine English sampler stitched by Elizabeth White, aged 8 in 1714 --- cost $4500. Very fine stitching on linen--alphabets, borders with stitched texts. Hard to imagine a child that young doing such tiny, tiny stitches.
The famous Balch school samplers from Rhode Island were represented but not the really fancy ones --- one of those fine, fancy ones I was told would cost about $200,000. to buy! The ones I saw looked very fine to me!
Most of the antique needlework fell into price ranges from $500 and up --- many in the $1200 range depending on scarcity and quality. There were some simple marking sampler pieces for about $200.00 and up.
The best part of looking at this showing was being able to peer closely at the mounted needleworks --- some people were examining them with magnifying glass to see the details.
Among the stitched linen pieces were what they called tent stitch pictures or canvaswork and what we call needlepoint nowadays. Featured among these were the famous "Fishing Lady" scenes of a woman sitting in a field of flowers and trees from Boston --- one such tent stitch panel cost $27,000.
Next to this was a coat of arms or crest design --- tent stitched in Boston and one of five in existence. This one cost $75,000. One crest had just been sold somewhere else for over $100,000.
There were many more examples of silks on linen stitching than wools on linen stitching.
The Hubers explained thousands of needlework pieces were stitched during these time periods and many have come down through time via sales by families who no longer wanted them or had no family to pass the needlework on to.
Interestingly, they (the Hubers) always encouraged family to keep the old needlework for future generations --- keep it in the family in case someone a generation later might appreciate it more. The Hubers said some people sold the old needlework to raise money to send children to college as one example for selling making an interesting comment that a past ancestor would be tickled and approve of their humble needlework helping a future descendant get an education or something equally as useful.
I did fall in love with a beautiful sampler featuring a stitched floral border , figures and alphabets --- the "typical" style of needlework one thinks of as an antique sampler but didn't feel too bad about not being able to take it home since I didn't have the $11,500. to buy it!
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